Singing Technique Lesson for Beginners – Enunciation of Vowels

How to Teach Vowel Enunciation

Elizabeth Treat as The Queen of the Night. CocteauBoy via flickr cc license

Most of the duration of each note should be sung on a vowel. For that reason, having knowledge of their pronunciation and singing them with clarity is vital for every serious singer.


Teach students the vowels of the English language and identify any vowels the students struggle with. Give the practice log for enunciation of vowels to students after the lesson is taught. Express the expectation they learn the phonetic symbols for each vowel as homework.

The Latin Pure Vowels

The first step to proper enunciation is making vowels easily recognizable. The five pure vowels in the International Phonetic Alphabet are: ɑ, e, i, o, u. They are pronounced: ‘ɑ’ as in fog, ‘e’ as in ate, ‘i’ as in see, ‘o’ as in ode, and ‘u’ as in too. Have your student sing each vowel on a five-note scale (1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1­) from the bottom to the top of the voice. Which vowels are clear throughout the entire range of the voice and which are not? Vowels may open up on higher registers towards an ‘ɑ’ as in father. Point this out to your student. If you do not have time to cover all the vowels encourage students to record themselves, evaluate recordings, and ask for feedback from trusted friends.

The Additional Pure Vowels

English requires good pronunciation of additional vowels: ‘I’ as in pit, ‘ɛ’ as in thread, ‘ʌ’ as in up, ‘ə’ as in could, ‘a’ as in pat, ‘ʊ’ as in book, and ‘ᴐ’ as in pot. Sing each on a five-note scale (1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1) from the bottom to the top of the voice. Evaluate their clarity as you did with the Latin pure vowels above. Work on specific vowels your student struggles with by helping them understand if their mouth is too open or too closed for each vowel or if they are creating the vowel too far forward or back in the mouth.

Nine Diphthongs and Six Triphthongs

Diphthongs are two sounds that make up a vowel and triphthongs are three sounds that make up a sound. The nine diphthongs in the English language are: boy (ɔɪ), say (eɪ), my (ɑɪ), brown (ɑʊ), few (ju), fear (ɪə), mare (eə), cure (ʊə), and four (ɔə). The six triphthongs in the English language are all diphthongs with ‘r’ at the end, which is pronounced with a schwa or ‘ə’ as in could rather than an American ‘R’ sound: flower (ɑʊə), buyer (ɑɪə), lawyer (ɔɪə), layer (eɪə), and fewer (əʊə). Treat the second vowel in all diph- and triph- thongs, except (ju) as in few, as a consonant or consonants. In other words, spend the majority of the time on the first vowel and add the last one or two vowels to the very end of the sung note. Few (ju) is sung in an opposite style. Sing the first sound quickly and hold out the last vowel.

Practice Diphthongs and Triphthongs Using Vocal Exercises

Use eight of the nine diphthongs to sing a five-note scale (5-5-4-4-3-3-2-2-1): ɑ -- ɪ, ɔ -- ɪ, e -- ɪ, ɑ -- ʊ, ɪ -- ə, e -- ə, ʊ -- ə, and ɔ -- ə. Each scale degree gets two vowel sounds. Start low and work your way up and back down the keyboard while switching vowel sounds every two to three five-note scale. Help the student to focus on keeping the ɪ (mid) from turning into i (feed) and the ə (could) from turning into ʌ (up). Now practice each of the eight diphthongs on five-note scales going down (5-4-3-2-1) from the top to the bottom of the voice using the words: my, say, boy, brow, fear, mare, cure, and four. Sing one word for each five-note scale and help students place the second vowel at the very end of the scale. Triphthongs can be practiced on a nine-note scale from the bottom to the top of the voice (1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1). Sing each word nine times for one nine-note scale: flower (ɑʊə), buyer (ɑɪə), lawyer (ɔɪə), layer (eɪə), and fewer (əʊə).